Bishop Gene Robinson is no stranger to controversy. His ordination by the Episcopalian Church in 2003 was greeted with both outrage and celebration in various parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Bishop Robinson came out over twenty years ago. In June of last year, he was legally joined to his longtime partner, Mark Andrew, in a civil ceremony in New Hampshire. This past January, Bishop Robinson was again in the news when he led the invocation for President Obama’s inauguration celebration and concert at the Lincoln Memorial. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Organizers for this year’s major Christian arts festival in Britain are coming under criticism from some quarters for inviting a gay American bishop to speak. Gene Robinson was one of the main speakers at the Greenbelt Festival last week in Cheltenham that up to 21,000 people attended. In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay man to be elected bishop in the Episcopal Church.
While Bishop Robinson was greeted with a standing ovation by the crowd in Britain that had come to hear him speak about his sexuality at the festival, his presence was widely criticized by various conservative Christian groups, with some boycotting the festival in protest.
Bishop Robinson is no stranger to controversy. His ordination by the Episcopalian Church in 2003 was greeted with both outrage and celebration in various parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Church. Many people did not welcome his elevation, and the issue of gay clergy has become so contentious that it threatens to divide global Anglicans — some say it’s already begun. In July, the Episcopal Church voted to end a three-year moratorium on electing gay bishops, a move which may ultimately push the US church out of the Communion.
Bishop Gene Robinson came out over twenty years ago. In June of last year, he was legally joined to his longtime partner, Mark Andrew, in a civil ceremony in Concord, New Hampshire. This past January, Bishop Robinson was again in the news when he led the invocation for President Obama’s inauguration celebration and concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Robinson was given a slot only after gay advocates protested Obama’s selection of Rick Warren, a leading evangelical opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, to give the invocation at the actual inauguration. But while the hundreds of thousands on the National Mall watched and heard Robinson’s opening prayer, millions around the country missed it, because HBO didn’t broadcast his remarks. Obama’s inaugural committee eventually apologized, saying they “regretted the error.”
Well, Bishop Robinson joins us now from San Francisco. His autobiography, published last year, is called In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Bishop Robinson. Where does the Episcopal Church stand today on you, on acceptance of you, and on other elections for bishop around the country that we see, from Minnesota to Los Angeles?
BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: There’s never really been a question about my acceptance. No one questioned that I was duly elected by the people of my diocese and duly consented to by the entire Episcopal Church by a two-to-one margin. However, I think in the last six years the Episcopal Church has questioned whether or not its actions might have been precipitous, and it listened very intently to the feedback from around the Communion. But then, last month, at its general convention in Anaheim, the Episcopal Church, after considering that for six years, said, “No, you know, our canons have served us well, the rules by which we govern the Church. They served us well in the election in New Hampshire, and we’re going to abide by those. And we are not going to discriminate against anyone because of their sexual orientation.” I think it was a way of saying the Episcopal Church means to be a church in which all of God’s children are included, and I’m very proud of that.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the two American dioceses, in Los Angeles and Minnesota, which will be electing a bishop by the end of the year, between them fielding one gay man and two lesbians? Where do you think these elections will go?
BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Well, what I know for sure is that no diocese is going to elect someone simply because they are gay or lesbian. The bishop has too great a role to play in a diocese to be elected on such a narrow issue. What those two dioceses will do will be the same that every diocese does: it will look at all of the candidates, look at all of the issues facing the Church in that place, and then they will elect the person that they feel is best qualified to lead them into the future. If that turns out to be one of those gay or lesbian candidates, then they will be elected and, I believe, consented to by the rest of the Church.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the general moratorium on the blessing of same-sex partnerships in the Episcopal Church today?
BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Sure. As a response to the feedback that we got from the Anglican Communion, we made a very informal agreement. That is to say, there were no canons passed, no hard and fast rules. But we did make an attempt to sort of push the pause button, if you will, on the blessing of same-sex unions in any kind of official way. We agreed not to authorize any particular liturgy for that, which is one of the way our churches says this is something we believe in. And again, at this recent general convention, by a three-and-a-half-to-one margin in the House of Bishops, for instance, we decided that we would in fact collect those liturgies and study them and come to the next general convention with some idea of what such a liturgy would look like if the Church chose to officially sanction it.
The fact of the matter is, we all know that we have faithful Christian gay and lesbian people in all of our denominations, no matter where they stand on this issue. The question is, are we going to affirm them the way that I believe God affirms them, affirms us? And I believe the Episcopal Church has stated quite clearly, yes, we are. And I think other denominations are looking to see, you know, are we going to come apart over this issue? No, we’re not going to come apart. Are we going to be stronger because of it? Yes, we are. And I believe you’ll see other denominations, just as we saw the Lutherans do a few weeks after our convention, following suit.
AMY GOODMAN: Bishop Gene Robinson, can you tell us your own story, how you came out — you were married, you had children — how you ultimately did become a bishop?
BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Well, it’s a long story, of course. But I guess the thing to say is that, like many people, I grew up in a time when “gay” was not a word that you used to describe homosexual people. You only spoke about them in quiet whispers, if at all. There were no positive gay models. This is before Ellen, before Will & Grace. And it was almost like committing suicide to understand yourself to be a homosexual person. It’s hard to remember how the world has changed so much in these last twenty years.
By 1986, my wife and I — and we had a wonderful marriage — had both begun to understand that we were paying a terrible price for this disconnect between what was really true and what the world seemed to see. And I had shared with her before we were married that my relationships had been with men, but I had been in therapy to cure myself, but that some day it might raise its ugly head. And indeed, after thirteen years of marriage, we made a commitment, a decision for both of us, that we — in order to live up to our vow to honor one another in the name of God, that we would let each other go.
I felt that coming out was a call from God. I think God wants our insides and our outsides to agree. That’s what integrity is about. And so, although I thought it was the end of my life as an ordained person in the Church, I felt called by God to do this. And little did I know that, twenty years later, I would be a bishop of the Church and telling my story as a witness to what God can do in one’s life.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Bishop Robinson, that whole controversy around the inauguration, you were included in that huge celebration a few days before the inauguration, and hundreds of thousands of us saw you up on the stage, the Obama family in the front row. But HBO did not broadcast your words and ultimately said it was the decision of the Obama inaugural committee. Your thoughts?
BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: You know, there was no figuring that out. What I can tell you is that I got apologies from the highest-level executives at HBO. I got apologies from the highest levels of the inauguration committee. I think it just happened. And that was no time to pick a fight with anyone. I was honored to be there. I was honored that the new president invited me. And I said what I had to say. Lots of people saw it on YouTube, even if they didn’t see it on HBO. I prayed the prayer to God and for God, not for HBO. And I think this new president deserves all of our support, as well as our appropriate critique. And so, I remain a fan of his and a supporter of this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Bishop Gene Robinson, I want to thank you very much for joining us. You can go to our website at democracynow.org to see the full words of Bishop Robinson on that pre-inaugural ceremony on the National Mall.